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New PAC Poised To Make Gains In City School Board Races

This story was updated at 3:28 on May 19.

A newly formed political action committee that sought a Pittsburgh Public Schools board majority appears to have toppled an incumbent in the Democratic primary and is leading in two other races.

Tracey Reed bested incumbent Terry Kennedy, who has served two terms representing District 5 covering neighborhoods including Greenfield, Oakland, Hazelwood and Swissvale. Reed is a former teacher and longtime board member of PPS watchdog group A+ Schools. Kennedy filed as both a Democrat and a Republican, meaning she will likely get a chance for a rematch in November.

Reed is one of the five candidates backed by Black Women For A Better Education (BW4BE). The committee formed a year ago in response to what supporters called a lack of transparency and accountability to improve education outcomes for Black students who make up 53% of PPS enrollment. BW4BE raised more than $50,000, including a $25,000 individual donation.

With more than 90% of votes tallied, two other candidates backed by BW4BE were leading in their races as of Wednesday.

According to unofficial results, incumbent Sala Udin is leading by 178 votes over challenger Lamont Frazier in the race for District 3. Gene Walker was also endorsed by the PAC and is leading incumbent Veronica Edwards in District 9 by 172 votes, though some precincts have yet to report their totals. Edwards cross-filed, though, so her name will likely appear again on the November ballot.

The PAC also endorsed Grace Higginbotham in District 1, and, Khamil Scantling in District 7. But both of those candidates appeared to have fallen well short in their races.

Incumbent and current board president Sylvia Wilson held off Higginbotham. She will represent East End neighborhoods including Homewood, East Hills, Regent Square and parts of East Liberty and Shadyside for a third term. The retired teacher and former employee of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers raised more than $22,000 for her campaign.

Newcomer Jamie Piotrowski will represent District 7. The social worker and Mt. Washington CDC employee were endorsed by the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, Wilson’s former employer.

The teacher’s union and BW4BE did not endorse any of the same candidates.

The new board will have plenty of big decisions to make in the coming years. The district’s 22,000 students learned remotely for more than a year during the pandemic. The district will have to address learning loss, mental health needs and a growing budget.

Board members are sworn in shortly after the November election and then turn around and vote on a budget in December. The district operates a $665 million budget with a nearly $40 million budget deficit. The city school district will also receive $100 million in federal relief funds. Earlier this month, administrators said there will be a public input process on how to spend the money. Details haven’t been announced.

Board members shot down the administration’s attempt to raise taxes last year. Administrators say growing costs outside of their control — like payments to charter schools that teach Pittsburgh students and growing retirement costs — without increased revenue has put the district in a tough financial position.

Challengers, though, say the district is spending too much at the administrative level as enrollment continues to decline. BW4BE candidates have said they want to cut spending at the central office.